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What's Bigger than Email? Social Media (by the numbers)

The worldwide web is a still a teenager, but it is poised to become a legal adult later this summer, on a date nobody is likely to notice, let alone celebrate. How tender and young the web still is can be hard to remember, since it has come to dominate our lives in so many ways so quickly.

So, in my modest role as a chronicler of the early Internet Era, and my instincts as a journalist (with our responsibility to always try to write a "first rough draft of a history that will never be understood"), tonight I feel compelled to report to you, dear reader, that email -- that killer app of all killer apps -- lost its premier position as the top online activity this past February, although nobody noticed it at the time.

What overtook it? Social media. According to a new report from The Nielsen Company Online, "in February, social network usage exceeded Web-based e-mail usage for the first time."

Now, most of the report is actually about something much closer to the hearts and minds of media execs -- how online ad spending is certain to follow the boom in online video and social networking, as our visually-oriented culture takes its heavy TV viewing habit online. Here are Nielsen's main findings:

  • The number of American users frequenting online video destinations has climbed 339 percent since 2003.
  • Time spent on video sites has shot up almost 2,000 percent over the same period.
  • In the last year alone, unique viewers of online video grew 10 percent, the number of streams grew 41 percent, the streams per user grew 27 percent and the total minutes engaged with online video grew 71 percent.
  • There are 87 percent more online social media users now than in 2003, with 883 percent more time devoted to those sites.
  • In the last year alone, time spent on social networking sites has surged 73 percent.
All of this data is useful, of course, but the killer, still, to me, is that email is no longer number one. But then it did have a pretty good run.
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